At the June 11 regular meeting of the Gulf County BOCC a recommendation was made by Assistant County Administrator, Michael Hammond, for the Gulf County Detention Facility to assume control and responsibility for Gulf County probation services and the pretrial release program.
This memorandum was neatly placed in the Consent Agenda packet. Had Commissioner Ward McDaniel not pulled the recommendation for discussion by the full Board, this recommendation (like so many others) would have quietly been approved by the Board without any open discussion for the benefit of the public. Commissioners McDaniel and Bryan voiced their concerns regarding this operational change. Overriding all logic, a 3-2 vote approved Mr. Hammond’s recommendation. No opportunity was given by Chairman Smiley for public input before the vote was taken. So, without any public input and no plan, probation services will soon be provided in-house by county staff.
Mr. Hammond states in his memorandum that, “Following my review and analysis of the current program, I submit the foregoing recommendations based on the understanding and assumption that our current correctional facility staff will administer the programs without need for additional personnel from the County Commission.” How so? Will one employee handle the program? Or will several share the duties? How much spare time do jail employees have available to take on additional duties?
Where is Mr. Hammond’s review and analysis? He submitted a recommendation to the BOCC without any details of how this operational change will work. He stated during the meeting that the program can be run more efficiently in-house but did not give any details. What liability issues will result for the County with this change? Do we have certified staff to provide all the probation and pretrial services required? How much money is Mr. Hammond projecting as a revenue stream for the County? During Mr. Hammond’s comments I did not hear any estimate of income for the County. Mr. Stewart from Florida Probation Service gave lots of numbers during his comments – I cannot attest to their accuracy – but he had numbers.
So many questions remain unanswered. Most disturbing to me was Commissioner Yeager’s rush to get this voted on that day. What was the urgency? Commissioner Yeager stated he had been in discussion with staff for 2-3 months and they have “convinced me” this will work. How did Mr. Butler and Mr. Hammond convince him? Where is the plan? Commissioner Bryan suggested the item be tabled until Mr. Hammond could present the Board with written information on how this program will work – Commissioner Yeager would have none of it. What’s the back story here? All the fees generated go to the Clerk’s office to help support the court system. This operational change will not reduce taxpayer burden by one red cent. In fact, I believe this will be an abysmal failure – it will cost taxpayers money, collection rates will go down and open the door for potential lawsuits against the County.
Florida Probation Service is a group of trained professionals. Mr. Hammond alluded to some problems with the running of the program. From his specific complaints I would conclude the problems are of a clerical nature and can easily be resolved between the Clerk’s office and Mr. Stewart’s office. It was obvious, as the discussion between Mr. Hammond and Mr. Stewart progressed, that Mr. Hammond has other issues with Mr. Stewart. I found Mr. Hammond’s verbal attack on Mr. Stewart extremely unprofessional and certainly in violation of the County’s pledge of civility. It was quite a contrast from just a few months ago when the BOCC warmly applauded the great work that had been done by Florida Probation Service.
Mr. Hammond said, “If we make $1 it’s better than what you’re making today because you’re not making anything.” I question the accuracy of that statement. Florida Probation Service currently pays $750 per month ($9,000 per year) to rent an office in the Wewahitchka Sheriff’s sub-station plus provides free internet service for the sub-station. The monthly internet fee is $200 per month - $2,400 per year. The rental income and free internet will be gone. Sheriff Harrison stated in the June 11 meeting that it will be difficult to keep the sub-station open without the money from Florida Probation Service. The sub-station is important to the citizens of Wewahitchka – they deserve a law enforcement presence in the northern part of Gulf County.
Another wrong-headed decision was made by the BOCC June 11. This takes me back to the vote on moving Public Works to Howard Creek; the vote had to be taken that day. That was a bad decision then and this is a bad decision now. Commissioners Smiley, McLemore and Yeager, your bad judgment will cost the people of Gulf County. Commissioner Yeager, waiting two weeks to at least see a written proposal surely can’t be too much to ask – at the end of the day.
P. S. Since the June 11 meeting, the County Attorney has sent a letter to Florida Probation Service requesting they remain on the job until October 1, 2013. All the more curious why the vote had to be taken June 11 if the County wants Florida Probation Service to remain on the job 3½ months longer. The contract allows for a 60-day out clause. Again, why the rush to push through this decision?